New Media experts: 3 steps to get ready for Virtual Reality

You’re a new media expert, specializing in video, social media, liveblogging or infograhics? Get ready for the final breakthrough in virtual reality, which is starting to impact sectors such as education and even the newspaper industry. As a columnist about new media for the business newspaper De Tijd in Belgium, I realized this year that there’s little time left to get ready for the transformation virtual reality will cause in very diverse industries.

When Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

Zuckerberg sees virtual reality changing industries such as healthcare, education and sports news coverage. This evolution will take quite a few years, but the future is being prepared now and early but convincing examples will be soon accessible for huge audiences. Also take note that Facebook and YouTube enable users to post 360 degree videos, right now.

I’ll present you two recent articles demonstrating the high expectations regarding virtual reality, then I’ll give my recommendations.

The first article was published in the British newspaper The Financial Times and seems totally enthusiastic: Our virtual reality future is bigger than it appears. The author of the article, Jonathan Margolisbecame firmly convinced about virtual reality during a number of meetings in Los Angeles.

Interesting enough, the breakthrough is not “just” in entertainment. Education for instance is very interested in the new possibilities. Roy Taylor, a vice-president of the chipmaker AMD, told Margolis: “VR is happening here on a scale and with an energy you can’t believe.” Taylor added that the universities are pouring “millions of dollars into it.”  

The author of the article also refers to first-hand experience: he was totally blown away by a virtual reality video about the Wright Brother’s flight. He watched it using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Personally I use a prototype of the Oculus Rift but recently I bought the Google Cardboard headset – less sophisticated maybe, but very cheap.

(Graphics from

A second article which is very positive about the future of virtual reality – even outside the traditional gamers communities – comes from Jessica Davies on Digiday. She reports about the worldwide ambitions of the British newspaper The Guardian in sports coverage.

Sports journalism is often very innovative as The Guardian demonstrates with the use of liveblogging. The future of sports coverage will be even more spectacular.  Davies quotes The Guardian’s sports editor Ian Prior as saying: “VR could have major ramifications for live sport experiences and really drive the next iteration of journalism.”

The New York Times recently sent Google Cardboard virtual headsets to its subscribers. In combination with the app NytVR people can experience news coverage about the refugee crisis and the Paris terror attacks in a far more immersive way.

What should you do in order to keep a close eye on the virtual reality breakthrough?

  • Get Google Cardboard It is cheap and gives access to a lot of interesting virtual reality content, it works with most smartphones.
  • Consider buying Samsung Gear VRThis headset works with Samsung smartphones and it powered by Oculus Rift.
  • Wait for Oculus Rift VR headset –  It will be available for consumers in Q1 201 and you’ll need a gaming PC to get access to a premium quality virtual reality experience.


Virtual Reality will start going mainstream in 2016, if you want to be part of the action, invest now in getting hands-on experience with it.

 I got inspired for this post as a participant in the Social Media Marketing course at Coursera, created by Northwestern University. Feel free to reach me at @rolandlegrand on Twitter. 


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Virtual Worlds generated by algorithms

How does one create virtual worlds? I guess one extreme is to have developers consciously building worlds, planning and organizing everything in advance, allowing no content generated by the players themselves except maybe for the text chats and adventures they experience. The other extreme could be worlds which are almost entirely generated by the users.

On SingularityHub a third possibility is mentioned by Jason Dorrier:

The game’s creators made template planets, ships, creatures, and so on, and then wrote algorithms to iterate on their designs. The software creates untold variation on body parts, shapes, colors, and more. It’s a little like the way our own universe works. Governed by basic physical laws, building blocks, and evolutionary forces, the whirling cosmos self-assembles into the myriad forms we see.

What he describes is No Man’s Sky:


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Thank you Gigaom

Such sadness. GigaOM, universally described as a ‘iconic tech blog’, shut down. They ‘recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time’.

The blog, founded by Om Malik, tried to find a suitable business model. They organized expensive conferences and offered expert analysis. It proved to be too difficult. The economics of blogging is far from self-evident. My impression is that blogs have to attract ever-increasing amounts of eyeballs in order to earn more or less the same revenue, while the costs increase.

Anyway, I’m deeply grateful for the insights the folks at Gigaom gave me. They are among the best. Let’s hope we find ways to earn a living while running quality blogs.

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VR news roundup: increasing competition for Oculus

Some rather important news about virtual reality developments: it seems Oculus is getting some serious competition.

-Playstation 4 VR Headset Project Morpheus could come to market in the second half of 2016. (Roadtovr)

– Valve and HTC unveiled a very impressive system at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. This stuff is expected to ship to developers in Spring 2015. TechCrunch John Biggs has a glowing report on it.

– A Secret team at Google is working on new version of Android for virtual reality, so Rolfe Winkler announces on The Wall Street Journal.

– So what is Oculus doing? No hard announcements yet for the launch of a consumer version of their headset. However, Gear VR, the Samsung mobile headset powered by Oculus, would get a full launch with Samsung’s next cycle – probably this Fall (TechCrunch).

I updated the VR wiki mindmap accordingly. 

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Bruce Sterling and the convergence of humans and machines

Bruce Sterling is a tremendously inspiring science fiction author, futurist, design thinker and cultural critic. Menno Grootveld and Koert van Mensvoort had a great interview on with him about Artificial Intelligence, the Technological Singularity and all things convergence of humans and machines.

In this interview, Sterling explains in very clear terms how we are prisoners of metaphysical ideas when we believe in ‘thinking machines’ and entities which would become like artificial super-humans.

Of course, technologists are seduced by these ideas, but then their projects get unbundled into separate products and services.

It’s not that Sterling wants to prevent us from being too ambitious regarding computers and algorithms. In fact, he explains that by trying to think about our technological futures in anthropocentric terms, we actually limit what is possible.

Whether you are obsessed by the Singularity or not, this is a must-read interview.

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Avatars as digital personal assistants

Imagine that you don’t have to search for each individual app, select it, then use it according to its own little system. Instead you would speak to your device (smart phone, watch, headset, whatever) using natural language, and the thing would do whatever you instructed it to do. You could ask for a high quality French restaurant in a certain neighborhood of your city at a certain time and specify that parking should be easy and safe. Your device, or rather the “digital personal assistant” in it, would mobilize a number of apps and databases and book a table. That would be the era of the post-app, so Richard Waters explains in the Financial Times, writing about Artificial intelligence: Digital designs for life.

I wonder what form that personal assistant would take. A cute robot? Or rather something very small, almost invisible? In a virtual world setting such as Second Life and OpenSim it could be an avatar without a real life typist behind it, but chatting away like Siri responding more or less intelligently to questions and remarks. Such a bot could be the representation of a personal assistant.

However, such an avatar does not have to be confined to a traditional computer screen, just imagine what could be possible using Magic Leap or HoloLens. It would make our future digital personal assistant even more interesting…

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The anti-Minecraft

Lots of Second Life-people don’t like Minecraft. They consider it too primitive, too childish or whatever. I disagree, I think it’s a fantastic game helping young and not-so-young people all kinds of digital literacies. Joseph Flaherty Wired made me discover another game with Minecraft-like aesthetics, but with themed worlds which can be fully destroyed. It seems the worlds are not persistent, they are generated anew by starting a new session, yet no two sessions can ever be the same.

The new game is called Moonman and was funded via Kickstarter.

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Big tech in love with VR and AR, so we update our mindmap

Crazy times for virtual reality, or so it seems. ‘It’s the future’, people at Facebook say. Users will not only be able to experience immersive Facebook-experiences, but will also create them, Eric David posts on SiliconAngle. ‘Users’ means not just developer-types, but the average user. However, it is totally unclear when virtual Facebook-apps would hit the market.

While Facebook executives dream about immersing all of us in their product, some people at Apple share that dream for their own products. Apple was awarded a patent titled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display,” which details a virtual reality headset powered by an iPhone or iPod, according to Apple Insider. The device does look not fundamentally different from other systems strapping your smartphones on your face such as Google’s Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus).

But we may still have to wait a long time before Apple presents a consumer-ready device, and that device could also be something rather different from Oculus and be more along the line of Microsoft’s HoloLens – as one could think looking at patents filed two years ago, BusinessInsider says.

Since I started a wiki mind map about Oculus Rift developments, quite some people added useful stuff to it. I now added these latest developments (use the icon with the arrow under the map to maximize):

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister
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William Gibson captures the (gloomy) mood of the time

Don’t miss the latest episode of The Coode Street Podcast as it features author William Gibson. One of the topics is of course his latest book, The Peripheral, a story set in multiple futures. I guess ‘multiple futures’ sounds complex and the first part of the book is indeed bewildering. Wikipedia has a nice entry about The Peripheral (spoiler alert). I found the book intriguing because of the gloomy times we live in – think terrorism, war in Ukraine, societies in crisis, climate and environmental tragedies. In The Peripheral Gibson refers to a major crisis wiping out a big part of humanity, mysteriously called The Jackpot.

There’s no detailed account of what happens during The Jackpot except for some references to the climate. Yet the way in which Gibson talks about the Jackpot seems remarkably realistic:

And first of all that is was no one thing. That is was multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end.

A bit further it is described as

androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit

The climate change, caused by there being too much carbon, is an important driver of the catastrophes. People in the past “fucked it all up” so it is explained, at first they did not know what was going on and then they were unable “to get it together to do anything about it”.

But it’s not only the climate and the climate has multiple consequences. Like I witness it from our newsroom the world is an extremely interdependent, complex and delicate system breaking up at various places – environment, culture, society, economy, finance. It’s not an analysis I talk about here but a certain mood, and Gibson captures that mood brilliantly in his book.

If you wonder what a “peripheral” is in this context: it’s a cyborg avatar that users can connect to from another location. (Wikipedia)

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Why bother to blog

These latest weeks have been quiet on MixedRealities. I had some holidays end of last year, and the new year was one hectic rush of news about terrorism, the war in Ukraine and the elections in Greece. I continued online studying, however I did not participate in any Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but use other interactive ways of learning such as Treehouse for learning some programming skills. More importantly, there was this nagging feeling about blogging: why bother doing it now the world is flooded by Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook-updates (never mind Google+)?

When Andrew Sullivan quit blogging there was a new peak in the ‘blogging is dead’ debate. Kevin Drum on MotherJones responded with a post saying blogging isn’t dead but old-school blogging is definitely dying. He has a neat definition of old-school blogging: “a daily blog with frequent updates written by one person (or possibly two, but not much more)”. The reasons he mentions:

  • Conventional blogging doesn’t scale well. Nothing beats the engagement some good Facebook-posts can generate, and in order to make blogging sustainable, massive traffic and engagement are needed. Uber-bloggers such as Robert Scoble simply moved to Facebook.
  • Conventional blogging often takes the form of longer rants, which one can only fully understand if one is familiar with  previous posts and comments.
  • Professionalism. Big media hired good bloggers, experts and journalists started their own blogs but mainly link to content owned by the company they work for.

So, old school blogging is not cost-effective. What about new school blogging? A blogger can adapt to the reality that conversations often happen on social networks (and not only or even not mainly on Twitter, but on Facebook). This means self-contained posts with one theme. It probably also means tracking conversations which happen on social media and curating them on the blog.

There is something more. The reverse chronological order of the blog (and of Twitter) is no longer sacrosanct. Recency is no longer an absolute criterion as Facebook demonstrates with its possibility to organize the ‘stream’ based on importance and not recency. Maybe people want once again pieces of content which remain valuable over time, with a beginning, middle and end, beautifully crafted, finished and self-contained, as Alexis C. Madrigal said in The Atlantic. An example of this could be the longread format, think Snow Fall.

In the midst of all this doom and gloom about blogging I was rescued by Dave Winer. In a re-run of an old post he suggests this definition of what makes a blog:

If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think — then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it’s not. Things like spelling and grammatic errors were okay, in fact they helped convince one that it was unedited.

All of which won’t prevent Winer from using Facebook: “Because it’s a fixture. It will heavily influence the new systems of the decades to come.” In another of his posts, A note about blogging, I read:

Even if no one read my blog, I’d still write it. Not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s something like this — I would still cook even if I was the only person eating.

Winer refers to the Japanese hostages in Syria (both murdered now) and how they both kept blogs and their writing informed the reporters covering their story. Conclusion: “If you have something to say you should be blogging it.” For now, I stick to that.

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